Marketing Failure: Diversity's M.I.A

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

Diversity matters. Period.

Imagine being the only white person sitting in a crowded boardroom, courtroom or classroom and hear a black person of authority shout out, in a self-assured manner, "...we asdas diversity from every corner in this room..."

Chances are you might pick up on the notion that diversity might be defined differently than what you expected. 

Too often I'm in a crowded room or banquet hall where scores of organizations are represented but I'm the only black communications/public relations professional present or invited.

And too often I hear speakers dote on how "diverse" they are-- clinging to the fact that they have people in their organizations working in advertising, product launch, financial communications, automotive or any other particular area.

But the one thing many of these professionals have in common is that the people they're referring to are almost always. Overwhelmingly. White. 

As the Red Cross debacle shows us, organizations can't afford to define diversity solely by geographic region, skill set or some other measure that forgets about the influence race and ethnicity has on an organization's performance. That influence is real. Race and ethnicity are woven into the fabric of our American society.

For the Red Cross' communications staff not to notice that all of the white patrons are described as 'cool' while all of the patrons of color are described as 'not cool' might not affect a white child because it promotes a positive attribute with regard to the racial group he/she belongs. On the other hand, it could affect the white child because it may give him/her an indicator that white is 'right' while people of color engage in mischief or are, in this case, 'not cool.'  

What do you say to the white children who, after seeing another depiction of people of color doing wrong, ask "Do brown people always do bad things?"

Meanwhile, to a child of color who sees this and asks: "Why aren't any of the brown people doing nice things we do?"

How can you explain the nuances of a naive communications team?

This picture rips at the sense of self for a child of color because it attributes a negative connotation to the group for which he/she belongs. This is what cultural bias, cultural insensitivity, cultural etc etc etc looks like

But where does the lack of cultural awareness in an organization come from?

Answer: The organization. And the organization's hiring practices. 

Organizations' diversity hiring, promoting and retention practices often cower behind lofty statements claiming to "value diversity" or how hiring is "without regard to race, ethnicity..." But peeling back the statements to look inside many organizations, you hardly see racial diversity. 

LinkedIn, social media and often a company's own "Meet the Team" page expose organizations that boldly showcase heterogeneity in their staff. If you're perceptive, the irony hits you like a ton of bricks. 

The absence of a culture at the Red Cross that hires, trains, invests in and promotes talented people of color--an employment practice buried in the dark-- was, in one fell swoop, on full display before a national audience.   

I wanted to get a sample of what diversity looks like on Red Cross' communications staff, so I went to LinkedIn. I entered"communications" for the keyword and "Red Cross" for the company.

After sifting through 10 pages of LinkedIn profiles, I found two blacks out of more than 100 people who did not appear to be minority.

The only black male to have a profile that surfaced in that search result worked in 'field communications.' Admittedly, I'm not sure what that means but it was an outlier. Other profiles contained titles with: manager, vice president, communications specialist, intern, chief communications officer, director, etc.  

But the Red Ross' hiring practices are different than their promotional material. The American Red Cross dotes a picture of a black female youngster on their website's homepage. And black males and other underrepresented minorities appear lavishly in the Red Cross' promotional material. 

Why the dissonance between promotional material and hiring? 

I'm concerned with the chance these kids will land jobs at the Red Cross when they become of age. If a sampling of LinkedIn pages and current hiring practices is any indicator, the answer seems pretty slim. 

Despite  a lack of diversity in the American Red Cross' communications team, I believe them when they state that it wasn't their intent to convey a racist message.

But I also believe they didn't make a good enough effort toward taking action to see to it that messages are culturally sensitive. Instead, the Red Cross accepted, on face value, the often feigned "diversity & inclusion" buzzwords that have become too cliche in our organizational lexicon. 

The research shows diverse teams that include its people of color would've probably noticed this long before network TV stations and newspapers brought it to the nation's attention.

What next? 

Will thought leaders and media outlets grapple with the root causes that led to the Red Cross publishing this controversial picture or will they simply drive foot traffic with fodder from the effects? Will organizations realize that they too can suffer from such unsophistication. 

Or will they do something? 

What you can do for your organization

(1) Believe that better decisions come through diversity

(2) Tie Diversity to Performance evaluations & Incentives

(3) Lift the veil of ignorance and discover enlightenment.  Remove over-reliance on qualitative barriers, like "cultural fit" that tend to exclude certain groups while welcoming others.  The tension at your organization will prove beneficial.

(4) Integrate less diverse candidates that aren't so "cookie cutter" --candidates who have experiences other than always being the only minority in their community, classrooms and volunteer organizations.  

(5) Deviate from traditional outreach efforts-- word of mouth, family, friends and referral, etc.

(6) Search LinkedIn for diverse professionals--they exist.

(7) Accept potential diverse candidates when they send you LinkedIn invitations

(8) Enlighten your social media connections about employment opportunities--current and future within your organization 

(9) Have your company sponsor and join minority professional organizations and send a group of non-minorities. 

What you can't do to your organization

(1) Diversity numbers can't be glorified by having disproportionate numbers of nonprofessional minority staff in janitorial, secretarial or security positions.

That's just not good enough. 

(2) Say you don't see race-- or even worse-- don't actually see race

(3) Remain silent on a lack of diversity at your organization

Few of us truly want to be left out. Let the Red Cross' communications mishap be a reminder that we all can strive to become more inclusive at our organizations and that there are tangible bottom line implications and justifications behind doing so. 

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